Emma Thompson is right, women have been ‘brainwashed’ to hate their bodies

It came from trying on wedding dresses in my usual sizes that came up too small every time, forcing me to upsize and upsize. “Don’t feel bad about yourself,” the shop assistant told me. “They make all wedding dresses in tiny sizes, and the more expensive and designer you go, the smaller the sizes come up.”

“It’s ridiculous really,” she added. “Given that the entire industry is supposed to be based around making women feel their most beautiful, we have more women crying in here during fittings than women who don’t.”

And society’s self-imposed claim over our bodies doesn’t stop there. Think about the rhetoric that has become part of our day-to-day: I was asked more times than I care to admit: “When is the wedding diet starting?”. I was even sent links to supposedly ‘silly’ T-shirts available to buy that read: “Don’t worry, this is my pre-wedding body” (for £45, no less).

We hear brainwashing language in exercise classes, trainers telling us to ‘work off’ those mince pies after Christmas or – as was once the case in a female-filled HIIT class I attended – to “imagine our wobbly tummies and legs just melting away.” 

You probably remember the now-infamous campaign by a well-known London gym group back in 2018, that referred to overweight women as ‘whales’ and offering women the chance to be just ‘ugly’ rather than ‘fat and ugly’. In fact, one billboard poster featured the strap-line ‘Punish yourself buff’ over an image of woman who appears to be screaming as she strains to lift a heavy weight. 

And what about those bright yellow adverts for weightloss protein shakes that asked women “are you beach body ready?” You see, once you start thinking of examples of body-hating rhetoric aimed toward women, it’s hard to stop coming up with them. 

This anti-female-form vernacular has snuck in through every crack in our society and has been fed back to us so often that it no longer feels like an opinion, but rather a fact. And when you trace it back, it’s usually always linked to money: who spends more? A woman who loves herself or hates herself?

I wouldn’t dare, but if I calculated all the money that I have spent over the years on trying to hate my body less, I’d have a six-figure savings account. Slimming pills bought over the counter at a sun bed shop aged 15, countless pieces of equipment that promised abs ‘quicker’ or fat loss ‘faster’, and all sorts of fat-freezing and aesthetic treatments.

But the idea of what the ‘perfect body’ looks like is transient; it has changed throughout the years (just look at 17th century Rubenesque paintings of women who would now be dubbed ‘fat’), and each time, society has managed to sweep us up in its next ideal. From runways telling us that size 12 is ‘plus size’, to celebrity selfies so FaceTuned they’re almost unrecognisable, women stand at the centre of body ideals, blown this way and that by their impossible ideas.

It’s all an endless cycle. One generation brainwashes the next, one industry’s body ideals impact others, and so on we go. 

And though the idea of throwing off these shackles and choosing to love ourselves in all our feminine glory might feel out of reach (or even unimaginable) today, we can make small choices; small acts of defiance to start shining light into society’s cracks, rather than absorbing the darkness they are beaming into us. Because no matter what size or shape you are, you should never be made to feel like you have to “punish” yourself into being something different. Being bigger or less “buff” than those around you isn’t a punishable offence. It’s not an offence, full stop.

So, tonight, I will, just as queen Emma Thompson directed, stand in front of the mirror and just “accept” what I see. Because if society isn’t going to give my body a break, I certainly will.